The opposition in Russia: Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader, “may have been poisoned by a substance that affects the nervous system”

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, September 29, 2019

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Getty Images

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Navalny is being treated at the Charite Hospital in Berlin

The Berlin hospital, where the leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny, is being treated, says he is apparently poisoned.

Charite Hospital issued a statement saying: “Clinical evidence indicates the occurrence of poisoning with a substance belonging to the group of cholinesterase inhibitors.” And this substance affects the nervous system.

But the doctors who treated him in Russia say the substance was not there.

Navalny fell ill on a plane on a domestic flight in Russia on Thursday.

A video clip has been released showing Navalny, a vocal critic of the Kremlin, writhing in pain during the flight from Tomsk, Siberia, to Moscow.

His supporters suspected of putting poison in his cup of tea at Tomsk airport.

Navalny’s flight made an emergency landing in Omsk, where he received treatment for the first time.

In their latest statement issued after the German medical team’s statement, Omsk doctors said the tests showed no sign of cholinesterase inhibitors in his body.

Speaking last week, the same team indicated that their illness was caused by metabolic syndrome caused by low blood sugar.

On Friday, they initially said he was too ill to move, but then they allowed him to board a medical evacuation plane that landed in Berlin on Saturday morning.

What do doctors say in Germany?

The statement said that his condition is “serious but not life threatening.”

“The substance is not yet accurately known,” the hospital said. “A large analysis has started. The effect of the toxin – that is, cholinesterase inhibition in the body – has been proven several times and in independent laboratories.”

The statement pointed out that the clinical results are still unclear, and the medical team warned of the possible effects on the nervous system.

The Russian opposition leader is lying in an intensive care room, still in an artificial coma.

Navalny is receiving an antidote, atropine, the same drug that UK doctors used to treat ex-KGB agent Sergei Skripal after he was poisoned with Novichok nerve gas in 2018.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are chemical compounds used to treat many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, but they are also found in some nerve agents and pesticides.

Negative effects could include overstimulating part of the nervous system, causing some body functions to increase, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the United States.

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EPA

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Navalny’s wife, Julia, was next to his bed at Charite Hospital

“Cholinesterase inhibitors stop the action of an important enzyme that regulates messages from nerves to muscles,” says Aleister Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds in Britain.

What did Navalny’s supporters say?

They hold the Kremlin responsible for what happened to the opposition leader.

They said that the doctors in Omsk were initially helpful in taking Navalny abroad for treatment, but then backed off before he was finally allowed to leave.

His wife, Yulia, said she feared that Russian authorities would try to wait for the time to pass for any evidence of a chemical substance in Navalny’s body to disappear before taking him abroad.

But a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, said on Thursday that the Kremlin would help transport Navalny abroad if necessary, describing it as a purely medical decision.

“No influence was exercised (on the doctors), and there could be no influence on the patient’s treatment,” said Alexander Murakovsky, chief physician at Omsk Hospital.

Navalny, 44, is a prominent Putin critic. He revealed official corruption in Russia. He was imprisoned several times for organizing rallies.

The non-governmental organization that arranged his trip to Berlin, Cinema for Peace, said Navalny would likely be suspended for a month or two.

What is said outside Russia?

In recent statements, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for identifying those responsible for any poisoning and holding them accountable.

Britain called on Saturday for a “full and transparent” investigation.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged over the weekend that if elected he would “stand up to dictators like Putin.”

Chronology: Targeting Navalny

April 2017: He was taken to hospital after spraying a disinfectant green dye on his face in Moscow. This was the second time that he was targeted with “zyounika” (“bright green” in English) that year. “It sounds funny, but it hurts like hell,” he wrote on Twitter after the attack.

July 2019: He was sentenced to 30 days in prison after calling for unauthorized protests. He got sick in prison. Doctors said he developed severe allergies and “dermatitis”. His doctor indicated that he may have been exposed to “some toxic substances.” Navalny said he believed he might have been poisoned.

December 2019: Russian security forces raid the offices of his anti-corruption organization, seizing laptop computers and other equipment. Security camera footage showed officials using electrical tools to enter the door. Earlier that year, his organization was declared a “foreign agent”.



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